Republican presidential candidate George Bush personally received $6,000 in cash from a secret Nixon White House campaign fund during his 1970 Senate race, according to a statement given the Watergate special prosecutor's office in 1974 by a former Nixon political operative.
The operative, Jack A. Gleason, who at the time ran a secret $3 million slush fund called the Townhouse Operation, says he gave Bush the money personally.
The fund was set up to funnel money into Republican campaigns, including $106,000 previously reported as having been given to Bush's campaign officials. The $6,000 is separate from the $106,000 and is potentially more significant because of the allegation that Bush personally received it but failed to declare it, as required by law.
According to Gleason, he handed the money directly to Bush, saying: "This is from Dick and Pat [Nixon]. You're doing a great job. Keep it up."
Bush denies receiving a cash contribution from the Nixons or anyone else.
"If anyone told me the president of the United States gave me a $6,000 contribution I'd sure as hell remember it, particularly since he was so popular then," Bush's press secretary, Peter Teeley, quoted him as saying.
The Watergate prosecutors apparently did not pursue this or other alleged violations of law by Republican senatorial candidates because they believed it would be difficult to find coroboration for Gleason's testimony that he gave the money directly to the candidate. The receipt of campaign contributions by others on behalf of the candidate, as in the case of the other $106,000, was not considered by the prosecutors to be a violation of the statues applicable in 1970.
Gleason's version, first told to prosecutors six years ago, was reconstructed from documents of the special prosecutor that were released in partial form under the Freedom of Information Act; supplementary information made available by former prosecutors; Gleason's 1970 records; and Gleason's reassertion that his 1974 account is accurate.
Gleason's visit to Bush was part of a special "Project Six" plan, initiated by H. R. (Bob) Haldeman, nixon's chief of staff, Gleason told investigators in 1974. Haldeman wanted $6,000 personally delivered to each of 15 Republican senatorial candidates as "a scheme for obtaining leverage over the candidate himself if he failed to report the cash contributions," according to Gleason and others interviewed by the special presecutors in 1974. The cash, considered "dirty money" by Haldeman, was to be personally delivered by Gleason and to be credited as having come directly from the Nixons.
Because Haldeman had requested that Gleason give the $6,000 payment to each candidate personally, Gleason kept a handwritten ledger summarizing the transactions. In three instances, the ledger indicates that Gleason gave the money to a campaign assistant. In the other 12 instances, including Bush's, Gleason's notes made at the time indicate that he made the delivery personally.
Gleason's travel and bank records show that he was in Houston Monday, Oct. 5, 1970. Gleason recalls making the contribution at a motel meeting room or campaign headquarters.
Bush's former campaign manager, Marvin Collins, recalled in a recent interview that he met Gleason only one time, after a Monday morning campaign strategy breakfast at a Houston motel. He could not recall the date.
Collins recalls that Gleason was there to make a contribution. "As we filed out of the meeting, Bush would have met him," Collins said, adding, "I didn't see if any money exchanged hands."
During the past week, Gleason has acknowledged and repeated his assertion that Bush received the money personally.
"After 10 years, I would not feel comfortable testifyinig under oath about the details of anything," Gleason said. "My recollection is not that specific. But every memory I have is that I handed money to him personally."
Although Gleason's meticulous records have proved reliable to prosecutors in the past and indicate that Bush and 11 other Republican candidates personally received cash, one internal memorandum suggests that some prosecutors may have thought that Gleason gave the $6,000 to the candidates' chief assistants rather than to the candidates themselves.
However, a former member of the prosecutor's office said that the reason no candidates were prosecuted was that the money either was properly reported or, as in Bush's case, they had no corroborating evidence, other than Gleason's ledger.
The Townhouse fund, named for a townhouse basement in downtown Washington out of which Gleason worked, has plagued some of the 15 Republicans since the early 1970s, when press reports began questioning the fund. Bush's $106,000 in conributions from the fund first surfaced publicly in 1974 when Gerald R. Ford was considering him as a possible vice president, again in 1975 when he was nominated as CIA director and most recently in news articles about his presidential campaign. Receipt of more than half of the $106,000 is not accounted for in Bush's 1970 campaign reports.
Bush and his 1970 campaign finance co-chairman, Robert Mosbacher, have acknowledged receipt of the $106,000.
They also have noted that reporting requirements for contributions received by campaign committees were vague in 1970, and failure to report the contributions would not be illegal.
However, because both Bush's finance co-chairman, Mosbacher and Fred Chambers, assert that Bush never handed over any campaign cash to them, Bush would have had an obligation to report any campaign cash received personally -- such as the alleged $6,000.
Bush's federal and state campaign finance reports show no contribution by Richard or Patricia Nixon nor any contribution of $6,000 in early October. Bush also personally signed a federal report stating: "No contributions were received by the candidate or by any person for him."
According to Mosbacher, Bush "was jumpy about taking cash from anyone." When anyone would attempt to give him cash, "Goerge would say, 'Give it to Bob or someone.'"
Finance co-chairman Chambers says he never received any cash from Gleason.
Mosbacher, however, says that Gleason might have given the $6,000 in cash to him, saying it was from the president.
"I would not necessarily have remembered that he said it came from the president, because it would never have occurred to me that it really came out of the president's pocket," Mosbacher said.
If he had received the cash, Mosbacher said, he would have commingled it with other campaign contributions and deposited it in one of the many committee accounts, which was legal under past campaign financing laws.
"Now you can see why the new campaign finance reforms were necessary," Mosbacher said.